Hearing problems are among the top 10 most common burdens of disease and are projected to be become even more common by the year 2030. The aim of the present study was to give a current assessment of the prevalence of communication difficulties because of hearing loss and tinnitus, in the general Swedish working and non-working populations in relation to sex, age, socioeconomic status (SES) and noise exposure. How prevalence is affected by SES has not been previously established.
A total of 18 734 individuals were invited to participate in the study, of which 11 441 (61%) enrolled. Of the participants, 9756 answered the questionnaire for those who work and 1685 answered the version for non-workers.
The most important findings are that 31% in the working population and 36% in the non-working population report either hearing loss or tinnitus or both. The prevalence of hearing problems increases with age, is higher among men and persons with low self-rated SES, and covaries with exposure to noise at work. Severe hearing problems are already present in men and women under 40 years of age who are exposed to work-related noise.
Prevalence of hearing problems is far more common than previously estimated and is associated with SES and noise exposure history. Hearing problems have a gradual onset that can take years to become recognised. In order to proactively intervene and prevent this deleterious, yet avoidable handicap, statistics need to be regularly updated.